Modern life comes with any number of stressors that may impact your mental state. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a new one to many people but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t affecting you.
Take a look at some of the things that you should know about FOMO: what it is, how it affects you, and how you can healthily manage your FOMO.
What is FOMO?
Have you ever found yourself worried that you’re missing out on an important experience that other people are having without you? You almost certainly have.
Despite its widespread presence as an internet meme, FOMO isn’t as new as it may seem. It’s similar to the feeling you may have had as a child when an older sibling was allowed to stay up an hour or so after you were sent to bed.
What fun thing were they getting to do that you weren’t able to participate in? What were you missing?
FOMO isn’t an internet invention. It’s existed forever. Teens and adults who grew up before the internet age knew what it was like to miss a party that everyone else in school seemed to be attending or to not be invited out to drinks after work with a group of coworkers.
But the internet has enabled everyone to be much more aware of what other people are doing at all times – and therefore much more keenly aware of anything that you may be missing out on.
And watching other people post their most glamorous and interesting experiences and interactions online – while you scroll through your timeline from home – can exacerbate the feeling that you’re missing out on all kinds of fun or excitement that everyone else seems to be able to participate in.
How FOMO Affects Your Mental Health
Although FOMO is not a new human experience, the fact that it’s so much more widespread and pervasive thanks to internet culture means that the way it can now affect a person’s mental health is new.
Teens who grew up without constant internet access may have been disappointed when they had to miss a party or gathering, but they didn’t have the ability to look at constant updates from the event that they were missing in real-time, and it was easier to put it out of their minds the next time there was an event that they were able to attend.
Now, a teen could even be at one event but receiving updates on their phone from another event happening at the same time, and find themselves fearing that they chose the wrong one or weren’t invited to the “better” of the two events.
Social media is designed to keep users engaged and discourage them from looking away from their timelines for too long – even to the point where some social media apps withhold notifications for a short time and release them at about the point where the average user is about to close the app or put the phone down, giving them a reason to stay on the site longer.
Feeling compelled to keep checking back to find out what’s happening that you’re not a part of can cause stress and anxious feelings. And the more of this you do, the easier it is to become convinced that everyone you know has a more interesting life with more going on than you do.
That can lead to feelings of inadequacy and loneliness.
While social media can be a great tool for connecting people, social media-induced FOMO can end up leading some people to feel more isolated than ever.
How to Manage Your Fear of Missing Out
If FOMO is getting you down, what can you do about it?
Social media isn’t going anywhere and while some people benefit from simply opting out of social media accounts or disconnecting from devices entirely, that isn’t an option for everyone.
After all, internet-enabled devices are a necessity for work, school, and many aspects of daily life for many people, and social media accounts are often required for professional or academic purposes.
What’s more, despite their drawbacks, social media accounts also provide benefits for many people.
That doesn’t mean that you just have to live with FOMO, however. There are a lot of things that you can do to reduce the negative effects of FOMO on your life and mental health.
Start with the way that you think about social media and the posts that you see on those sites. Remember that your timeline is highly curated.
Generally, people aren’t posting pictures of themselves sitting at home in their pajamas with unwashed hair watching Netflix. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t ever doing that, however.
What you see on social media is only one aspect of the lives of the people posting.
Your friend who is planning a glamorous wedding may not be sharing her money troubles or tensions between herself and her future in-laws. Your friend whose posts are all about their exciting nightlife probably isn’t live-streaming his morning hangovers.
The images and updates you see in your timeline often fail to document the problems, challenges, or boring times, but that doesn’t mean that those people aren’t experiencing problems or don’t have boring days. They do, just like you do. You just don’t have the full picture.
So, take your timeline (and theirs) with a grain of salt.
It’s also important to take breaks and develop a habit of living in the moment and being mindful of the things you enjoy about your life.
You don’t have to throw away your phone or delete your Instagram account, but you certainly can mute notifications for an hour or two while you focus on whatever you’re doing at the time.
Be mindful of the joys in your own life – even the ones that are less than exciting.
Being alone in your home on a rainy night reading a good book may not be worthy of a live stream, but it can still be a satisfying experience. Attending a child’s birthday party might not be as inherently documentable as hitting up the latest nighttime hot spot, but it can be rewarding in its own way.
Practice appreciating the things that you are doing and it will become easier to stop worrying about what you aren’t doing.
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